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Obama Pledges Security for Israel, Toughness, Diplomacy on Iran

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama says that, if elected, he would defend Israel's security, pursue Middle East peace and firmly oppose any attempt by Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on major foreign policy remarks by Obama only hours after he secured the Democratic presidential nomination.

Senator Obama was addressing the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, a group that will be key to building more voter support for him in advance of November's presidential election.

Calling Israel's security sacrosanct and non-negotiable, he said his administration would seek a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, based on key requirements.

"The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper, but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders, and Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided," said Obama.

Obama directed criticism at Bush administration Mideast efforts, saying that, if he is elected, he would not wait until the waning days of his presidency to take an active role in advancing the cause of Middle East peace.

The United States, he said, should never force Israel to the negotiating table, and should support Israeli decisions to pursue negotiations with Syria.

At the same time, Obama had this message for the Syrian government.

"As president, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations, and success will require the full enforcement of [U.N.] Security Council Resolution 1701 in Lebanon and a stop to Syria's support for terror. It is time for this reckless behavior to come to an end," he said.

Referring to threatening statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against Israel, Senator Obama said his goal would be to eliminate what he called the real and grave danger of Iran's activities in support of terrorism and pursuit of nuclear capabilities, which Iran denies.

"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything," he said.

At the same time, he again sought to contrast his approach with presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, on the question of how to engage with Iran.

Obama says he would personally lead diplomatic efforts, carefully prepared with a specific agenda, and coordinated with key allies.

"Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversary just for the sake of talking," he said. "But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if and only if, it can advance the interests of the U.S. That is my position. I want it to be absolutely clear."

There should be no doubt, Obama added, that as president he would never take the threat of military action off the table, but said any use of military force is more likely to succeed if diplomatic efforts are first exhausted.

Iran and Middle East peace efforts were also addressed by Senator Hillary Clinton.

Clinton echoed Obama's criticisms of Bush administration policies, saying the United States needs to make a new start on Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

She also endorsed a stronger U.S. international effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"Iran is a country whose leaders, whose president, denies the Holocaust," said Clinton. "He defies the international community. His government trains, funds and arms Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists in attacking Israeli civilians. He threatens to destroy Israel. Just this week, he said that Israel is about to die and will soon be erased. We can never let Iran obtain nuclear weapons."

The next president, Clinton added, must work for an international consensus against Iran's nuclear program, including tougher sanctions, and work with Israel and moderate Arab neighbors to roll back Iranian influence in the region.

Key Democratic and Republican congressional leaders also used speeches to the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference to voice support for Israel, and criticism of Iran.